In Providence, designer Michele Dunker transforms a somber Tudor into a light-filled statement of timeless, fashion-forward style.
By Brad Mee, Photos by Scot Zimmerman
From day one designer Michele Dunker realized this Providence remodel would extend beyond the basement-level redo the homeowners Roger and Mary Jo Dahle had initially considered for their family. “Projects naturally evolve,” says Dunker who ended up gutting the entire 6,300-square-foot Tudor-style house down to the studs.
The renovation included everything from reinforced floor joists and updated electrical to an altered floor plan and reconfigured rooms. “Once you start, you just know you’ll keep moving further into the house,” Dunker explains. And, of course, the décor was transformed. Working closely with her clients, Dunker replaced the home’s traditional Tudor-style elements with others befitting the homeowners’ refined tastes and desire for something lighter and more spirited.
“Mary Jo and I were on the same page from the start,” says Dunker who describes her client as casual and glamorous. “We both like Gucci, Chanel and Tom Ford; we relate on a fashion level.” With her client’s level of taste established, Dunker directed the focus to interior icons, familiarizing Mary Jo with the likes of designers Donghia, Christian Liaigre, Thomas Pheasant and Barbara Barry. “This allowed me to zero in on exactly what appealed to her and use this information to create the home she wanted,” says Dunker, who was intent on delivering a spectacular, couture interior.
Walking through the front doors, one is met by a commanding entry Dunker considers the most difficult part of the project. “I pondered this space every time I walked into the home,” she says. “It had to be stunning, entirely new and yet maintain an element of authenticity.”
She achieved this by dressing the entry with a paneled ceiling treatment, gleaming shadowboxed walls and a magnificent staircase framed by handcrafted walnut banisters and newel posts. Just steps away in the music room, a dazzling ivory piano appears to glow against a backdrop of imported English windows and dark walnut walls paying homage to the home’s Tudor style.
Directly across the foyer, a spacious drawing room does just that—draws one into the room with garden views, elegant furnishings and multiple conversation areas. The space is light-filled and serene, taking its palette from the gardens. “All of the furniture has a celadon cast to it because I wanted to complement the evergreen outside,” Dunker explains.
Floor-to-ceiling windows and a deep-toned ceiling visually elevate the room’s 8-foot height while shadowboxed walls—painted in Benjamin Moore’s Tapestry Beige—provide timeless detail and dimension. “I used this color as the thread that links the home’s rooms,” says Dunker, who also repeated subtle accents of gold to help foster continuity throughout the interior.
As if dusted with gold, the dining room’s hand-blown Venetian glass chandelier from Donghia performs like luminescent art hanging above a Dessin Fournir table. A graphic ceiling treatment, patterned area rug and Zimmer + Rohde draperies provide the room with subtle statements of color and pattern. “I wanted them to be special without detracting from the chandelier,” Dunker says.
In the nearby kitchen, Dunker created an inviting sitting area from an existing breakfast nook and framed it with vaulted ceilings, wood beams and garden windows. “It creates a cozy place to sit and read the paper while still being connected to the kitchen,” she says. Dunker expanded the original galley kitchen by pulling space from the adjacent drawing room.
To infuse the space with comfortable scale and chic style she lowered the ceiling and added traditional architectural details that layer the room with classic detail. Double islands—one for cooking and the other for seating—optimize the kitchen’s functionality while a Walker Zanger backsplash and Holly Hunt sconces imbue the room with unmistakable glamour. “I never imagined our old galley kitchen could become a beautiful space we enjoy using and spending time in,” Mary Jo says.
Upstairs, Dunker continued the transformation, creating a number of spectacular bedroom spaces that include the busy couple’s luxurious master suite. “Roger is an international businessman who travels frequently,” says Dunker explaining the need for serene quarters. To create it, the designer dressed the bedroom in hushed tones and understated architecture and expanded its sitting area with French doors that open to a new veranda overlooking the gardens.
In the master bathroom, the designer paired Carrara marble and walnut cabinetry, and then added accents of Walker Zanger tile and Urban Electric bronze light fixtures. “It’s a feminine-meets-masculine style that creates the room’s glamour.” Dunker credits the room’s success as well as that of the overall project to the faith her clients had in her. “When clients trust me completely, I naturally want to create the very best for them.”